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Coronavirus cancellations: How to get your money back

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: External view of a closed theater after New York cancelled all gatherings over 500 people due to COVID-19 on March 13, 2020 in New York City, NY.
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Coronavirus cancellations are piling up.

Broadway has turned off its lights until at least April 12 , Disney is temporarily closing its theme parks, sport leagues have put their seasons on hold and concerts have been nixed in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Weddings are also being pushed back and bar or bat mitzvah plans are being disrupted. 

On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged people to cancel or postpone events with 50 or more attendees for the next eight weeks. 

So how do you get your money back if your plans have been canceled? While some policies are straightforward, others may be less clear.

The first thing you should do is just wait and see, especially since it is hard to get through to companies right now, said Ted Rossman, industry analyst for CreditCards.com.

"Give it a week or two," he said. "There is a good chance you will see an automatic refund processed onto your card."

That may be true for large public events, like Broadway shows, but may not apply to smaller ones.

Weddings and other personal celebrations

Don't count on an automatic refund for your wedding or other event.

Instead, reach out to your venue and vendors to talk about your next steps.

Jeffra Trumpower, senior creative director at WeddingWire, recommends postponing your wedding celebration instead of outright canceling.

"Couples can work with their vendors to find a common date in the future, which could potentially help save costs for both the couple and the vendors," she said.

Bread and Butter Productions | DigitalVision | Getty Images

Also be sure to read through your contract to understand what your options are in regards to full or partial refunds. Consult a lawyer, if necessary,  Trumpower advised. 

If you have insurance, go over your plan and speak with your agent to figure out if you are covered. It most cases, it won't be, she said.  

However, don't panic. Many businesses are being generous with their cancellation policies now, said CreditCard.com's Rossman. Plus, he suspects the CDC's guidelines will make it easier to get your money back. 

"The venue won't want to break the rule and potentially expose guests and staff to the virus," he said. 

Public events

In some cases, you won't have to do a thing to get your money back.  

For example, if you had tickets to a canceled Broadway show between March 12 and April 12, Telecharge and Broadway.com will automatically refund your money. Ticketmaster is also automatically giving refunds, except UPS fees, for canceled events.

With some cancellations, you may have the option to postpone or take a refund, depending on the circumstances. In some situations, it may be less clear.

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StubHub is giving its customers two options: receive a coupon worth 120% of the ticket purchased or a refund of the original amount to the original method of payment.

Meanwhile, Disney has various options to make up for the closure of all its theme parks. California's Disneyland Resort's website said it will "work with guests who wish to change or cancel their visits" and will provide refunds on hotel rooms during the closure.

Walt Disney World in Florida is automatically extending unexpired multi-day tickets with unused days or date-specific tickets with a valid use period between March 12 and March 31 through December 15, 2020. If you can't get there before that time, you can apply the value of the unused ticket towards a future date. You can cancel or modify your hotel room reservation, as well. 

Two big festivals have also shut down. In California, Coachella has been moved from April until October. Patrons can use their original tickets, or get a refund if they can't attend the later date. Austin-based South by Southwest has been canceled. Those who already registered can defer their badge until 2021, 2022 and 2023 and also get 50% off the walk-up rate in an alternate year of their choosing between 2021 and 2023. 

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When it comes to sporting events, whether or not you get a refund may depend on whether the game is rescheduled or not.

The National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer have all suspended their season.

In a letter to fans, NBA Adam Silver wrote, "Tickets already purchased for a postponed game will be honored when the game is rescheduled. If games are not played or played in an empty arena, teams will work with fans on a credit for a future game or a refund."

What to do

If you haven't heard about an automatic refund or aren't getting what you want, the first thing you should do is reach out to the ticket seller, said Rossman, who called the wave of cancellations "unprecedented."

"You may have to be your own advocate on this," he said. "In some cases, you will get an automatic refund.

"In other cases, you may have to be a little bit persistent.," Rossman added.

With many people reporting long hold times on the telephone, Rossman suggests finding alternate ways to contact your merchant: through an online chat, online form or even social media.

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If you don't get anywhere with the seller, then go through your credit or debit card company. That will be more of a dispute or fraud type of process.

"Credit cards are much more generous than debit cards," he said. That's because it is the bank's money until you pay them back, rather than money taken directly from your bank account.

Just remember you are limited to the specific card you used at the time — and next time, perhaps think of booking with a credit card.

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